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The sound of "snikt" both bores Jason Schachat and causes him to wet his pants.
Jason Schachat's Weekly Breakdown
August 13, 2004

Each week, Jason Schachat takes you along for his ride on the four-colored pulp pony. Feed the addiction, and the addiction feeds you.

You know, considering the lack of Wolverine covers on the racks, this should’ve been a great week for comics… but it’s just been kinda weird.

For example; while I enjoyed Captain America #30, I have to admit it’s pretty bizarre. In many way, it’s the polar opposite of Avengers #500, pitting Cap against all sorts of weirdoes from the dusty, far wall of his rogues gallery while Red Skull and rogue S.H.I.E.L.D. agents scurry around in the shadows. The battle with Batroc is intentionally absurd, choreographed and paneled in a way that’s both physically impossible yet true to the sensibilities of superhero fights. Then, when Cap and Diamondback get ambushed and knocked-out during a date (in civilian clothes) they come to in a villains' lair, yes, dressed in their costumes. This is the kind of thing you HAVE to know you’re doing. I mean, in this day and age, with a writer like Robert Kirkman at the helm, mistakes like these SURELY must be intentional, right? Right? (Please say “yes," or my fragile perspective of the world will come crashing down and kill us all.) This issue’s worth a read, but I still don’t know if it’s the new Kirkman book I’d choose to add to my shopping list.

Chosen, the modern-day messiah tale Mark Millar described as “Ultimate Jesus” wraps with issue #3, this month, and, even though Millar slips in a twist ending for us, it’s a lackluster finale for a dull mini. Even if you haven’t read The Bible (as SO many of us have), the Christ story is well known enough that this re-imagining had no surprises along the way and very little gained by cheekily naming characters “Petey," “Pauly”, and “Maggie”. Of course, the revelations at the end of the book (not a pun, I swear) are supposed to justify the long and uninspiring story we’ve sat through, but it really just feels like a tepid shocker taking a jab at politicians. What was the point of this whole thing? I’m sure another read through might enlighten us, but it was so slow the first time through, I can’t see myself giving it another shot. Pass on this one, and be absolved of all sin.

What? Schachat enjoying an X book?
Next you'll tell me he liked something by Chuck Austen...
I almost feel guilty tossing District X #4 in this week, since it seems like I’m always reviewing it and usually saying the same damn thing, but, seriously, this is a great one. David Hine pulls aside the curtain on our “mystery man” from last issue and ends up creating the first “mysterious” mutant I’ve actually given a damn about in years. The pseudo-science behind toad juice (a new street drug that gets mutants high and causes the rest of us to mutate) is kept slim and subtle, plot threads actually build rather than coming to cheap ends (like every other X-book on the market), and Bishop continues to not be the main character. Are you in love yet? Because you should be. For god’s sake, these guys even resort to a “ticking clock” plot device, and I’m STILL dying for my next fix. Best comic of the week, for sure.

DC Comics Presents The Flash #1 gives us another twosome of concept cover stories, but this outing stays away from the farcical parodies we’ve seen in some of the other issues. Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness bring a Silver Age feel to the style they used on Superman/Batman, giving us Barry Allen and Iris West alive and well. At least until Barry is gunned down by Deadshot. Then, Denny O’Neil’s follow-up story teams Barry up with— JULIUS SCHWARTZ! Yes, folks, even real people can come back from the dead when it’s a comic book! Well, it also helps when it’s a flashback, I guess… Doug Mahnke pencils the story with a more contemporary flair than the prior story, but O’Neil’s tale is so blissfully, almost-ridiculously self referential and goofy, it’d take quite a cynic not to crack a smile. All in all, a balanced tribute to a character who owed everything to Julie Schwartz. Do we feel a sense of closure? Yeah, but remember DC Comics Presents The Atom is still coming out next week.

“Unresolved” is finally resolved in Gotham Central #22, and Ed Brubaker really makes a heartbreaker out of it. Josie Mac and Driver stumble onto the Mad Hatter’s accomplice while former detective Harvey Bullock continues to follow his gut (both figuratively and literally). When this series started, Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka made the smart decision of lacing dialogue with references to Bullock, probably the best known cop character in Gotham outside of Commissioner Gordon. To finally see him in this arc, drunken and disgraced, is indeed painful, but the finale here is actually a heartbreakingly realistic portrayal of a man at the end of his rope. Michael Lark’s work on this series is wonderfully dirty yet realistic (…though he messed up the perspective on a photo-referenced car when they arrest the old lady… tsk…), and I advise any fans of Bendis’ Alias who were driven off when it morphed into The Pulse to jump ship for Gotham Central. Definitely worth your money.

Hey look! Clive Owen!
Can’t quite say the same for BMWFilms.com Presents The Hire #1, which follows in the footsteps of the short film series that showcased both talented directors and the latest models BMW had to offer. However, this comic miniseries moves without the restriction of needing to work with actual cars, and instead uses concept designs for its serial one-shots. Matt Wagner’s “Scandal” storyline gives us a next gen Z-series and a caricature Clive Owen speeding a Paris Hilton-styled millionaire brat away from a hotel besieged by paparazzi -- only to find a gang of Uzi-wielding motorcyclists waiting for them in the desert. Wagner and Francisco Ruiz Velasco’s art communicates enough speed and momentum to make the car chase worthwhile, but the limits of the medium make it pale in comparison to the visceral film forerunners like John Frankenheimer’s “Ambush." It’s a decent read and the twist ending is enjoyable, but Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu proved in “Powderkeg” that not every BMW Film needed to be a chase scene, and, in the case of the comics, I’m hoping most won’t be.

Identity Disc #3 proves itself different from its predecessors by casting aside its misplaced attempts at being the supervillain The Usual Suspects and embracing the more farcical qualities of forcing Bullseye, Deadpool, Juggernaut, Sabertooth, and The Vulture to team up. Scribe Robert Rodi may have gotten on my bad side with his Loki miniseries, and the last couple of outings may not have been flawless, but issue #3 has enough humor and incompetent supervillain bungling going to make it one of the more entertaining reads this week. John Higgins' artwork still isn’t anything to write home about, but Rodi manages to pick up the slack, and it never really becomes a problem. I still can’t figure out why Sandman’s on the cover when they killed him in the first issue, though… Oh, well, maybe he isn’t dead after all. What a shock that’d be (*cough* sarcasm *cough cough*).

You know what makes Invincible #14 great? It’s not that a character died, or that we’re constantly distrusting everyone, or that our hero is surrounded by marauding scum and villainy. It’s that it can segue from battling alien invaders to domestic drama without either dropping the ball or leading us into all-too familiar genre territory. The fallout from Omni Man’s betrayal continues to spread, but Robert Kirkman madly threads his tale rather than building up to a standard re-match or introducing a new villain. The re-formed Global Guardians continue to struggle, Mark finds out Eve is dating his best friend, the government further interferes with hero work, Mark’s last conversation with his father is re-broadcast on national television -- the amount of conflict brewing in this concoction creates so many avenues to explore, it’s honestly impossible to say what’s going to happen next.

And how many books ever really manage that? Take Ultimate Spider-Man: that made a big deal of building up the Flash Thompson character and has left him hanging for, what, a year, now? Kirkman’s token high school jock never got as much screen time, but he STILL pops up, coping with life as a cyborg/ex-human bomb, even if it’s just for a couple pages. Ryan Ottley’s art compliments Kirkman’s style in both humor and trauma, and, as per usual, the last panel has us hungering for the next issue. Indeed, all is right with the world.

What? Schachat enjoying a book
by Chuck Austen? Next you'll tell me
he enjoyed an X book!

Well, maybe not EVERYTHING; what kind of strange logic does this universe operate under when every Marvel title I’ve ever read with Chuck Austen’s name on it has been absolute swill, but I find myself actually enjoying JLA #103? Granted, he’s still repeating the main concept of the last two issues, having a prominent Leaguer accidentally allow someone to die while soloing; but he still managed to surprise me. I genuinely felt for John Stewart when his standard Green Lantern method failed him and he then tried to make amends by claiming responsibility for every life on the planet. Granted, a truly great writer might be able to compress these issues into one story, and another month of this is pushing it, yet Austen scores just by treating the JLA like heroes (what a novel concept). Ron Garney’s artwork, on the other hand, pisses me off. His layouts are fine, but the characters are crude and inconsistent, and the hairline he’s put on John looks like some extreme ‘90’s throwback. That, and the children he draws look like Munchkinland hoodlums from the wrong side of the tracks. Recommended, but not too strongly.

I’m far more enthused about Powers #3 and should probably stop writing it up so often since you all got the message loud and clear a long time ago (i.e. it rocks). However, I feel I owe Bendis and crew an apology for labeling the book “frequently late” when they’ve been pumping out quality issues twice a month and still don’t show any sign of slowing down. This month’s — I mean, this WEEK’S issue makes good on the promises of the last outing, fleshing out the new Retro Girl and subtly putting together the character’s mythology for any of you who didn’t dive through old issues two weeks ago to sort it out on your own. Meanwhile, Deena Pilgrim continues her ferocious one woman war on crime as Christian Walker seems to finally accept his new place in the world.

I’m not sure if Michael Avon Oeming’s stylistic approach has changed that much or if he’s just drawing at differing scales, these days, but there’s something fresh about the look of Powers, and it isn’t just the massive amount of computer production going on. My only fear for this book is after this initial burst of energy, Powers will hit the backburner while Bendis blows a gasket trying to crank out all his other titles. Not saying it’ll happen. Just not sure.

And I’m still REALLY not sure whether I like Small Gods or not. I know, I know; why am I even talking about it if I can’t make up my mind? Well, it’s not so much that I don’t get this story of a psychic cop as I recognize story elements I’ve already seen a million times elsewhere. Issue #2 ups the ante by exposing Owen as a telepath (a highly illegal thing in the world of Small Gods) and testing the bond between him and his friends at the department when a telepathic criminal threatens to go public with this information, overturning every guilty verdict the department was involved with. Jason Rand’s dialogue is realistic and he strikes some powerful chords every now and again, but a lot of the story feels bland and tired. Juun E. Ferreyra’s paneling sometimes reminds me of EC comics, and the great work he and Eduardo Ferreyra do on the greytones make for a classy production, but the flow can be choppy and the progression hard to follow. Character designs are also inconsistent, at times, and they fall into the usual trap of making every woman a babe. There are elements at work here I enjoy, and it reads pretty well, but not enough for me to give it a thumbs up.

The thumb’s also wavering over Soulfire #1, the latest launch from Michael Turner’s Aspen line, boasting the same gorgeous if not annoyingly pretty artwork we’ve seen in his other books, recent Superman crossover, and the current run of Superman/Batman. As with the latter book, Turner finds himself joined by Jeph Loeb to tell a story where things blow up a lot, hot chicks run around saving and/or slaughtering people a lot more than they do in real life, and some punk teenager is prophesied to save us all…. maybe. This time, however, the focus is on a future where dragons have returned to Earth to lay human civilization to waste (I know; I saw Reign of Fire, too). This issue certainly has enough action and intrigue to pull you in, but, like the other Aspen books I’ve read, it leaves us at a pretty generic cliffhanger ending which overinflates the tension, making the next issue an almost assured letdown. I recommend Soulfire for any Turner fans and people looking for something just a little different, but I’ve got the feeling this series isn’t going anywhere in a hurry.

It's not easy being green...
Teen Titans #14 answers the age old question of what would happen if all the children of San Francisco suddenly turned into green animals and ran amuck through town. Beast Boy learns that, while he’s seemingly been cured of the morphing-disease that’s plagued him since childhood, its effects have suddenly become contagious and airborne, leaving the Titans to wrangle in the thousands of children who’ve been infected.

Johns’ main story is interesting and fun, but I found myself more taken-in by the parallel plot where Superboy learns Robin has retired and effectively ended their friendship. Sure, the pseudo-science at work in the main story makes more sense than we have any right to hope for (bitten by a green monkey… How the hell do we keep getting scientific about that?), but Johns is still performing more strongly with his characters than his plot devices. After the chilling ending to the last arc, I’m still waiting for him to “wow” me, again.

Hot Predictions for Next Week: Mary Jane #3, Plastic Man #9, Robin #129, She-Hulk #6, and Ultimate Spider-man #64.

Reminder: Until August 17, 2004, if you walk in to Brian's Books (see ad on our sidebar) in Santa Clara and drop the code phrase "Doctor Light," you get 15% off of all DC hardbacks -- that includes Wildstorm (Absolute League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Cliffhanger (a few Absolute Danger Girl sets there), Vertigo and the DC Archives.

Jason Schachat

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